Let Boys be Boys

I’ll call him Pete. He was ten and I was a college intern. Being 19, I envisioned making a difference to students with learning disabilities. The teaching staff specialized in helping with a range of issues—Down syndrome, autism, and mental retardation—as they referred to it back then.

Pete was different from the others, and since I was just an intern and didn’t really know what I was doing, the staff assigned me to work with him. Although Pete shared the same facility I could tell he really didn’t belong there. It seemed that his problem was his intolerance to a desk and chair.

Right across the playground was the “real” school as Pete called it. As we worked together on puzzles and flash cards, he told me about life there.

His sister was in fifth grade, and Pete, had he been in the real school, would have been in third grade. During the real school’s recess, he’d stand at the window and point out his old friends as they spun around wildly on the merry-go-round and chased one another.

His mental issue seemed to be that he couldn’t sit still very long. To call Pete an “active” child was accurate, but his teachers in the real school called him disruptive and unable to learn. Thus, he’d finally been sent to special education, surrounded by students with serious mental handicaps.

We were given permission to pretty much go anywhere we wanted within a radius of the school grounds. Spying a forested area behind the school, we headed out each day. I’d pack some snacks and books. As a kid, I loved building forts, so I showed Pete how to do it. He looked at me with newfound respect and went right to work.

Each day became an adventure. We’d walk and talk. I’d find books on the forest and he’d listen and observe—often running to find what we saw in the book. On rainy days we’d play catch in the covered area. We developed a memorization game with the multiplication table, spelling words, and fun facts as we tossed the ball back and forth.

On the last day of school, Pete and I sat in our woodland fort and talked about life. I’ve often wondered if Pete was ever allowed to go back to “real” school. He had no learning disabilities that I could see, except perhaps the notion that he needed to sit in one place in order to learn. 

Today’s kids are labeled with attention deficit and often medicated. But do they all need it? Pete was just an active kid that learned better while throwing a ball rather than sitting in a chair. Maybe kids like Pete could teach us another way to learn.

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